After arriving at Málaga airport, my break began in untypical fashion with a visit to the city itself. Overlooked by many visitors to its nearby resorts, Málaga is a typically Andalusian city with a smart centre made up of pedestrianised streets, inviting squares and a number of attractive monuments. Although it can't compete with the sights of Granada or Seville, as Picasso's home town Málaga boasts an enviable cultural heritage, with the Museo de Picasso and Picasso's birthplace tempting fans of the city's most famous son to visit. For those more into architecture than art, Málaga's Alcazaba (Moorish fortress) is an oasis of archways and fountain-filled gardens perched on the hillside with a view of the sea, well worth the couple of euros entry fee.
After acquiring a flavour for the seaside city, we moved on to the famous 'auction-style' restaurant, El Tintero. Located on Playa El Palo a couple of kilometres east of the city centre, El Tintero specialises in Málaga's signature pescaíto frito (fried fish) and seafood. The food on offer is tasty enough, but the novel dining experience is the real attraction: a team of waiters patrol the shaded terrace carrying armfuls of steaming plates, shouting out the name of the dish they're carrying in their best market-trader voices. 'Llevo paella, ¡ay qué rico la paella!' and 'Gambas, ¿quién quiere gambas?' are common calls as the waiters weave their way through the tables; customers signalling to them as they pass by. With most portions just €7.50, lunch at this atmospheric joint certainly won't break the bank: we paid €55 between four, including drinks.
|La Virgen del Carmen|
The next day was spent as so many days on the Costa del Sol are: soaking up the sun on the beach. As it was Saturday, plenty of Spaniards mingled with the foreign holidaymakers, their children playing together (or more accurately in one case, terrorising each other) despite the language barrier. I was amused to overhear a young Spanish boy proclaiming to his English playmate that 'We don't speak English here, we speak Spanish!' With only some minor sunburn to show off, we dined at traditional restaurant Casa Pablo in the aptly-named central square, the Plaza de las Flores. Prices were reasonable and my huge swordfish steak attracted plenty of admiring glances from passers-by. Afterwards, we made our way to the holidaymakers' end of town, the waterside puerto deportivo, a strip of restaurants and relaxed bars far removed from the quayside area of Puerto Banus, which turns into a parade of designer clothing and top-of-the-range cars as soon as the sun sets. Installing ourselves on the terrace of a busy bar, we sampled some rather ropey cocktails (caiprinha with lemon and no sugar, anyone?). Disappointing drinks aside, the lively area was ideal for a bit of people watching, with some more serious nightlife options available for those who want them.
My remaining days passed in much the same fashion: sunbathing, swimming, sampling a Greek restaurant at the puerto deportivo. I departed Estepona with a tan and an improved opinion of the Costa del Sol: yes, it's overdeveloped, but there are still relaxed resorts and pockets of charm. With sandy beaches, an interesting city in the form of Málaga and good transport connections from all over Europe, plus easy access to the rest of the region (we also drove to Granada in just 2 hours 20 minutes and spent the night there), holidaymakers could certainly choose far worse destinations.